'Bogged down' invasion casting doubts on Russia's aims

Moscow's generals scouring country for replacements with fatalities estimated at 7,000 dead and many more wounded

A Ukrainian serviceman stands guard at a military check point in the centre of Kyiv. AFP
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Russia’s “bogged down” invasion of Ukraine has led to growing doubts over whether it will achieve any of its aims, senior western officials have said.

Troops have suffered such high casualties that Moscow is now drawing replacements from distant units to reinforce the stalled offensive. Morale is so low that air force pilots are reluctant to fly due to increasingly heavy Ukrainian air defence and many conscripts are unwilling to fight.

“Russia is trying to generate forces to sustain the campaign and we are seeing signs of them pulling reserves out of peripheral places around Russia and its borders, which clearly was not part of the original plan, which demonstrates the extent to which it has got bogged down,” a security official said.

Moscow has also turned to Chechen mercenaries and Syrian fighters to make up the numbers but they, too, have suffered loses.

The invaders have failed to achieve a “strategic breakthrough” and are still tied to Ukraine’s road network, making them vulnerable to ambush, the official said.

“The advance has been slowed very substantially and they have taken substantial casualties,” the security official added. He said that US estimates of 7,000 Russian dead was not “implausible”.

Questions have also been raised over whether Russia will have the forces or ability to mount an assault on the capital Kyiv, which they are still struggling to encircle.

Reports from Kyiv suggest that the Russian encirclement is not even half complete, with 60,000 troops proving insufficient to surround it.

“I think there is a question as to whether Moscow now intends to try to assault Kyiv or not,” the source said.

Another western official added that there were concerns among Russian commanders over the cost of an attack.

“An ill-judged ground assault on a city as well prepared as Kyiv with really determined and committed defenders would be a fairly costly business and I think there comes a point where even Russia has to count the cost of casualties,” he said.

Ukraine continues to be supplied with US-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles that have shot down both helicopters and jets, causing disquiet among Russian pilots.

“They are finding themselves quite vulnerable to Ukrainian countermeasures and therefore they're exercising considerable caution,” the official said.

“We are seeing very, very low morale amongst the Russian forces, which may have been playing into the ability of pilots to get wheels up [take off] and the necessity of senior officers to go to the front.”

At least three Russian generals have been killed in the last fortnight.

The fighting has become a “grinding form of warfare” that was stalling out.

“There is very encouraging resistance from the Ukrainians. We don't know how long they can hold out. We hope it will be as long as possible," the official said.

It is now also necessary to begin securing evidence of war crimes, especially following the Russian attack that is said to have a hit a theatre in Mariupol sheltering 1,000 civilians.

It has been reported that if Russian President Vladimir Putin realises he is failing in Ukraine, he could resort to other weapons such as chemical or even a nuclear device.

The National asked officials about their concerns over the Kremlin’s reaction to failure

“The question really is whether or not he doubles down with greater brutality and escalates in terms of one of the weapon systems that he's prepared to use,” a senior security official replied.

However, there is hope that peace talks might resolve the conflict, with the fatalities approaching 20,000 after three weeks of fighting.

Peace talks were being “taken seriously” by both sides but there was still “a very, very big gap between the positions so how quickly they can bear fruit is one question”, an official said.

Updated: March 17, 2022, 6:21 PM